by Dexter Joseph

The room is near clean, safe for the fact that nothing remains frustrating as living with someone so unorganised as Mary. Not however to say she doesn’t try her best every now and then to push the dirty clothes into a single basket, keep the wardrobe closed always and have the desk in her room free of her hairbrush, makeup kits and hairbands. She tries to do those, even has a roaster up for hours she must get up and clean the house on compulsion or punish herself by losing four thousand to Henry.

That had been the deal, and that has been a terror, a thorn to her flesh because she has in a month begrudgingly lost 16k to Henry as a result of being caught with her home untidy. This irritates her many a times. Regardless, like he will always tell her, it is all for her good. He wasn’t going to marry her with her life so tattered, void of direction. And she agrees to that rationalisation anyway —not like she would want to marry anything like herself for that matter.

The bed is littered with case files of murders, images of victims, each marked with her pen, trying to connect dots here and there. She had just returned an hour earlier last night and having gotten lead to tracking the maniac who has made, in a year, a name for himself across the town. Nothing makes her more livid than the fact that this fellow still roams the streets as everyone sleeps, strikes when he wants, and makes an art of his murders before leaving.

The alarm clock rings. It is 9AM.

Mary walks out of the kitchen still in her pajamas, hair tattered, mouth full with stewed rice and hand holding a plate full of food. She keeps the food at the dining and switches the TV on, letting the noise from it gradually morph into sensible commercial displays. She had woken earlier than the alarm today, surprising as she had slept late.

She walks back into the room, turns it off and begin gathering the files littered everywhere, from the bed to the floor to the desk. She mumbles rants about how tiring doing this suddenly feels, and were Henry not coming that morning, she just would have left it all the way they are till whenever she chooses to do something about them.

She had slept on these files, thinking: same routine for the past six months. The thoughts of the images she picks off the floor makes her inside boil. Young girls and even younger boys, butchered, their blood used to paint the walls of places they’re found, drawing the names, ages of each victim, and the maniac’s initials marked in bold letters: AA, for ‘Adams’s Art’.

She sighs. Gone are the days when she asks herself what this fellow has to gain from these killings. This, she concludes, is one of those nonconforming sociopaths who even the devil wants nothing to do with. She exhales, looks up to the board hung on the wall. On it are pictures of earlier incidents, dead victims, her thoughts on each, probable similarities, a guessed pattern, and her frustration evident in her red inks as none brings her or the police department any close to finding this individual. Instead, they had found another body two days ago.

Her thoughts are drawn back to earth as her phone rings. She picks it up and her underwhelmed demeanour is quickly decimated. Love is calling, the only meaningful thing on the planet to her at the moment. She drops the files on the desk and falls back into the bed, legs flying up and down as his voice drowns her world.

“Slept well?” he says over the phone. His voice is deep, calm, neat and arousing.

“Yeah, I did, with a pen in my mouth, drooling all over my notes.” The smile remains steadfast, unwavering on her lips.

“As expected. Looks like you can’t take care of yourself if I am not around you.”

“Put the damn ring in my finger already.”

He laughs, “It’s just five weeks away.”

She sighs and the smile vanishes and her face morphs into a pout. “Feels like forever.”

“Hmm, someone is missing someone.” She can hear the grin in his voice, and even that sends shivering excitement all the way down her spine.

“Hope you slept well. Dreamt? About me perhaps?” Mischief rises back up her face, gleaming with a wide grin.

“You know, I actually did dream stuff about you last night.”

“Aww, really?” she giggles, the pace of her flying foot increases by a few more tempos. “Well, hit it.”

“Okay. So I drove to your place, rang the bell, drenched you with a million kisses, then flooded your house with your birthday presents.”

She bursts into laughter. Mary completely forgot today is her birthday. Now she figures that explains why a parcel was sent to her this morning with Jessica’s name inscribed on it as the sender. This also explains the strange behaviour by everyone at the department yesterday. Apparently they have some party or celebration in store for her today at work.

The call ends shortly after. Henry is on his way and already has booked a hotel for their outing. Excitedly she hastens her packing skills, dumps all the dirty clothes in the wardrobe, clears the desk of everything not meant to be there. With her appetite lost in all the excitement, she dumps the plate in the kitchen and fixes the parlour.

Time flies. The doorbell rings. She already is on her feet, dancing to the door, arms spread in excitement. And as he had said he dreamt, he did everything he said he’d done. She hurries to take a shower while he strolls into her room to scout which he feels is the best dress for their outing.

“So that’s what you slept on all night.” She hears his voice from the downpour of water at the bathroom. He likely has seen the files and pictures from the case.

“That bastard is one tricky psychopath, I tell you,” she says audibly, enough so he hears her.

She hears his scoff. He exhales. “Maybe because you guys aren’t paying much attention to his motivations. His thoughts. From what I’ve seen, all you guys are doing is let your hate for his actions drag you into a blind hunt for him, in futility, I must add.”

She frowns at the near mockery in his voice. This isn’t the first time he is doing that. “Motivations? What other motivations than the pleasure of hurting people, watching them die by his hands? Sweetie, you talk like this because you don’t see half of what I see at these crime scenes.”

“Hmm,” he scoffs. “I guess I don’t.”

“A times you sound like the thoughts of these things, even these mere pictures don’t make you sick to the stomach,” she scowls, annoyed as the thoughts of the slippery nature of this maniac comes back to her mind. “And why do you address this person as a he? This person talks with various voices, even a child’s. The gender and age is unidentified.”

“Maybe because I find it exhausting saying ‘that fellow’ or even ‘Adams’, when I can simply say he or she. And to answer your question, with a first class in psychology from NAU, a Masters in sociology from UNN, and currently considering a PhD in same school, I can very much picture these things enough to be used to the nightmares they birth.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll definitely capture this person. Personally, I’ll shift his jaw,” she sighs, deciding to shake the thoughts off her mind as not to ruin her perfect day.

“Sure you will,” he mutters distractedly. His phone rings. He answers it and calls her name. “I forgot something in the car, I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

He hurries out of the apartment just as she steps out of the bathroom. She sits before the mirror when her phone rings. Picking it the first voice she hears is Jessica’s. It is anxious, nearly frightened.

“Mary, where are you? Where’s Henry?” she queries.

Mary gets confused. “He’s with me. We’d be going out once I’m done—”

“Oh my God! Mary, get out of that place immediately. It’s him. He’s the killer. Get out of there now. Pick your gun and leave!” Jessica’s voice is harsh, drowned in what Mary can easily identify as fear, one so unusual.

“What—what are you talking about?” Mary is confused, unsure what to make of what Jessica says.

“Damn it, Mary. I’m at his house right now. There’s a dead body here, and he has sketches on papers on how he plans to kill you today. He has a gun or something in an envelope he came with. Get the hell out of there! He is insane! Mary! I’m coming there right now— hello — Mary—Mary!”

The connection suddenly breaches.

First is incredulity, then perplexity. What is Jessica talking about? Mary calls her back but her line is unreachable. She calls again, it rings but not being picked. She hears footsteps heading towards her door. Her heart skips, thumping. How could it be? Henry? Her fiance?

That explains why he rarely seems moved by the pictures nor have a face of disgust whenever they discussed the killings. Why he on repetitive basis referred to the unidentified, multi-vocal killer as a he, regardless of how many times she had played to him various recordings of Adams’s calls of mockery to the police, each with different voices, male, female, adolescent, middle-aged. Also why he always tries to muse through the deaths and Adams’s motivations.

Mary begins to hyperventilate, unable to hold her breath. She runs for her bed, pulls out her gun from beneath the pillow.

The door knob squeaks open and Henry walks in. “Babe,” he says, usual seductive undertone laced around both the voice and the word.

Mary’s body quivers without an ounce of control. Fear clouds her head, pain threatens to squeeze life out of her chest. Her breath runs a continuous marathon as he walks in to her, a grin in his lips and a big brown stuffed envelope in his hand.

“What’s with the look on your face?” he scoffs and reaches into the envelope. “You won’t believe what someone dropped off that I give you—”

His hands move out, fast.

She gasps.

The gun shot roars in the air.

Henry slams into the wall behind him, slumping to the ground immediately, bleeding like a fountain released from the tops of a mountain. Mary’s arm is stretch, her gun lined, smoke oozing off its muzzle. Her body trembles and the sobs flows off her mouth without control. Her head is flooded with shock, terror as she watches him struggle to hold to life. She sees what rolled out of the envelope as he fell, and it’s a digital camera. The very gift he had promised to get her before they got married.

A digital camera?

Her knees fail her. She falls to the ground crying, screaming, crawling towards him. First she grabs the envelope. Nothing is inside, just the shiny black camera.

“Jesus, no!” she screams. She tries to touch him, but he isn’t moving anymore. Her hands are shaking. What is going on? He didn’t want to kill me. It was just a camera. It was just a camera! Her thoughts spiral. “Henry!”

With the gun still clutched within her quivering grip she stands to her feet and runs for the door like one raving mad, in need to call for help, for anything. She grabs the door and jerks it, but it won’t budge. She pulls at it again. It’s locked.

“Sadly, that was too easy.” A gun cocks behind her. Mary freezes, numb where she stands. The presence of another in the house suddenly becomes apparent. That voice.

“Jessica,” she stutters, slowly turns and there she stands, dressed all in black, face furrowed in distaste, yet a grin on her lips. Her arm is stretched to Mary with a gun lined on it, and her phone on the other hand.

“You should have checked my present first.” First Jessica looks disappointed setting eyes on the parcel sitting on the couch, then her lips part with a wider grin. Her eyes flutter, and a strange pain pokes within it, yet saying nothing the rest of her body says. She moves close, picks the wrapped parcel, sniffs, then laughs. “Two kills in one day, that will be exhilarating! And I’ll tie your corpses to your bed!”

Mary is frozen, unsure what to say. Her body is numb, hands raised in surrender, and throat parched from heaven-knows-what. “You,” she sobs as Henry comes to her mind. “You’re Adams.”

Mary even in her brokenness sees Jessica’s gun tremble in her hand.

“Greet the others for me, detective.” Jessica shuts her eyes, looks away and pulls the trigger. Mary screams.

Jessica looks at the gun, shocked. Nothing. She presses the trigger thrice. It’s empty. She turns to Mary, as shocked and terrified as she. She raises her hand to speak.

Mary points her gun at Jessica and fires thrice, screaming as the barks echoe in the house. Jessica hits the ground, her blood spreading over the floor, and the parcel falling to her side.

Mary slumps to her knees, head spinning. She grabs her chest, unable to breathe, gasping for air as the shock from her surging cry hits her. She cries, loud, screaming atop her voice, and at this rate unsure what exactly makes her heart hurt.

Weak, she crawls to where Jessica’s body lies. She reaches for the parcel with shaky hands and tears the carton open. It’s empty. Nothing is in it other than a sheet of paper with Jessica’s handwriting roughly sketched on it: ‘It’s all a setup, Mary! Don’t pick my call!’

Mary screams, tossing the paper away as her brain knocks a lock. Her body quivers and her mind sinks deep into thoughts which paralyse her body. It all was a setup. She killed Henry and Jessica. Her inside turns, she slumps the floor, drained and broken.

Jessica’s phone begins to ring, the same time hers rings from just twenty feet away where she’d earlier dropped it. From where she sits, she reaches for Jessica’s phone, and the caller reads ‘Baby boy’, Jessica’s son. Mary crawls to her phone and looks at the caller ID. It also is Michael, Jessica’s son, the nine year old boy’s contact. Terror grips her, same as rage.

She picks the call, and almost immediately a screeching masculine laughter tears through the speaker. “Tell me, pumpkin. Did she play her script out convincingly? Were you really convinced?” The familiar voice frantically laughs. “Forgot to tell her the gun wasn’t loaded. My bad!”

“Adamss,” Mary pants, breathing hard, pained, weak and enraged.

“Not hard to turn people into dogs, you know. Get a loved one of theirs —maybe a child, a boyfriend, a dog, whichever of the inconveniences they love— Break their arms or pull out their teeth and let them hear those loved ones’ scream, and they’d quickly bend to your control.” His laughs pitch frenetically over the phone. “Don’t be peeved though. I’m not heartless. I keep my plot-moving characters alive as I promised these pawns of mine to do.”

Mary’s heart shatters as the play all unfolds in her eyes. Her cries become uncontrolled as she quakes where she sits, next to her best friend’s dead body and pool of blood. “No. No…” she mumbles on.

“That voice, so romantic.” He bursts into a frenzy of laughter again, his voice hoarse and crooked, yet full of energy. Almost immediately it drops back to a gentle subtle tone. “Oh come on, sweetheart, I know you’re dying to say it. Say it.” His voice gets pitched and charged again in a snarled laughter. “Say it!”

Her breath plunges into an abyss of uncontrolled turmoil, and the rage which comes along with it soaks her mind. “I will find you. I will kill you!”

“There!” he laughs erratically. “And I love you so much too!” He exhales as though to keep his excitement under control. “I just feel it’s better when I’m the one doing the stalking, don’t you think? Plus you stole my lines right there.”

Someone knocks on the door.

Mary looks up, pain still in her ear, hands quivering, a sense of terror clouds her very soul.

“And won’t you open the door for me, pumpkin?”

Mary’s eyes widen, shocked, nervous. That voice. It isn’t from the phone; it’s behind her. That scent. That presence. She turns around and a sharp pain grips hold of her face as something stiff rams into it. Everything blurs as she hits the floor skull first. Whoever it is, stands there, laughing hysterically as everything goes black.

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